Take the slow approach to winter food

The best things come to those who wait. So why not, asks Mark Hix, set aside a few hours for some seriously good food?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Take it from me, good old-fashioned slow cooking with big flavours is going to be in this winter. And I don't want to hear any complaints about not having enough time. That excuse doesn't work with me. What's so difficult about leaving something in the oven or on the back of the stove while you get on with other things? Or if you are worried about time, fish out your pressure cooker, which does the same as slow cooking only in double-quick time.

I understand that when you read a recipe that says it takes three hours and you need dinner in an hour, you might claim you haven't time. But that's just bad planning. Make dinner the day before or a few days ahead. Then supper will just need heating up.

The tastiest cuts are more often than not the cheapest and it's easy to knock up a stew, casserole or hot pot with root vegetables for next to nothing. It's a great way to feed the family and means you don't have to reach into the freezer for supper. And the cuts of meat that take longest to cook take on flavours of spices, vegetables, wine or a few herbs really well. You don't have to do much to make a real difference to a stew.

My grandmother, who without realising it taught me so much about cooking, brought home cuts such as scrag end and lambs' hearts and then cooked them in her lovely old dome-top enamelled casserole dish decorated with the baked-on juice stains of past stews and casseroles. Her cooking methods were simple; she certainly didn't use anything as exotic as wine in her sauces. The dusty bottles of Mateus Rosé, or granddad's home-made hock - which I remember as being quite disgusting and probably not fit for cooking with either - never made it into the kitchen. These days, most households have dregs of wine knocking around that are perfect saved up for marinades and cooking. But don't use really dodgy stuff that's gone past drinking stage.

I love the Chinese braises such as beef flank, a delicious cut that's cooked gently with ginger and five spice. And the Vietnamese do a great job of braising catfish in a sweet and fragrant sauce, rather like Mark Edwards' black cod at Nobu, which almost breaks all the rules of cooking fish. But the marinade made with miso (fermented soya beans) really firms up the fish and allows it to cook long and slow with a delicious caramelised effect. I once cooked a charity dinner party with Mark and the cod was on cooking way before the guests f had even arrived. I might get myself in trouble if I give away any more trade secrets about the dish, but it proves that slow-cooked food can be glamorous, as well as easy, to eat.

Chick peas in ginger sauce (safaid channe)

Serves 4-6

With some poori or naan bread, this is a meal in itself. Or you could match it with a selection of other Indian dishes, vegetarian or otherwise.

If you're using dried chick peas, buy the best quality you can as they should need less soaking. The Formesina brand from Spain is the one I always look for. Use plenty of water too as they really soak it up - check them after a few hours and top up the water if necessary. Ideally it's best to soak them for about 24 hours, and then to cut down on cooking time a pressure cooker is invaluable. But then again you could always speed things up by simply opening a can ...

800g cooked chick peas, canned, or soaked and cooked
60ml of vegetable oil
2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2tbsp finely grated root ginger
2tsp ground coriander
Seeds of 10 cardamom pods
1/4tsp cayenne pepper
1/4tsp ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lime
125g canned, chopped tomatoes
Salt to taste

to garnish

1 red onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 green chilli, thinly sliced

Drain the chick peas and rinse under the cold tap if using canned.

Heat the oil in a thick bottomed pan and gently cook the onions for 3-4 minutes until soft, stirring every so often until lightly coloured.

Add the garlic, ginger, coriander, cardamom, cayenne and black pepper, and continue cooking on a low heat for a couple more minutes. Add the lime juice, tomatoes and chick peas, salt and cover with water and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the liquid has virtually evaporated

Serve scattered with the red onion and chilli.

Game pie

Serves 4-6

You can use any type of game - hare, venison, pigeon and pheasant - but you will find that the various cuts have different cooking times. For example a piece of venison leg could take three or four times as long to cook as a piece of pheasant. Make sure the pieces are more or less the same size, though the darker meat that needs longer cooking will shrink so could start off in larger pieces. I'd recommend that f you start by browning the different types of game separately and then adding them at different stages of cooking, so that they each get the length of time they need. Allow at least 2 hours for venison haunch, 11/2 hours for rabbit legs and 1 hour for game birds, so add them for the last 45 minutes to an hour of cooking.

1.5 kg trimmed game meat, cut into 3-4 cm chunks and kept separate
750ml good red wine
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3 juniper berries crushed
1tsp thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1 bay leaf
Vegetable oil for frying
60g butter
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
3tbsp plain flour
1/2tbsp tomato puree
11/2 litres dark meat stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

for the pastry

225g self raising flour
1tsp salt
85g shredded beef suet
60g butter, chilled and coarsely grated
1 medium egg beaten

Put the venison, and if you're using it, hare, into a stainless steel or ceramic bowl (keeping the birds separate) with the red wine, garlic, thyme, juniper and bay leaf. Cover and marinade in the fridge for two days.

Drain the meat in a colander, reserving the marinade, and dry the pieces on some kitchen paper. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan, lightly flour the meat with a tablespoon of the flour, season with salt and pepper and fry the meat on a high heat a few pieces at a time until nicely browned. Then cook the rabbit. Keep that separate from the dark game meat. Then do the same with the lighter coloured unmarinated game birds such as pheasant.

Heat the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and gently fry the onions for a few minutes until soft. Add the flour and tomato purée and stir over a low heat for a minute. Slowly add the marinade stirring constantly to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil and simmer until it has reduced by half. Add the meat stock and the pieces of game that will take longer to cook (ie. the venison), bring back to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer gently for about 11/2 hours until the meat is fairly tender. Add the rest of the game and continue to simmer for an hour. It's difficult to put an exact time on cooking braised meats: sometimes an extra half an hour may be required. Test the meat to check that it is not too tough.

Once the meat is cooked, the sauce should have thickened sufficiently. If not, dilute a little cornflour in some water and stir into the sauce and simmer for a few minutes. Transfer the meat into a large pie dish and leave to cool.

Meanwhile make the pastry: mix the flour and salt with the suet and grated butter. Mix in about 150-175ml water with the egg to form a smooth dough and knead it for a minute. Roll the pastry on a floured table to about 1cm thick and cut out to about 2cm larger all the way round than the pie dish, or dishes, you are using. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little of the beaten egg and lay the pastry on top, pressing the egg-washed sides against the rim of the dish. Cut a small slit in the top of each pie to allow steam to escape, and brush with beaten egg. You can put a trim around the edge of the dish with a strip of leftover pastry. Leave to rest in a cool place for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the pastry is golden. Serve with greens or mashed root vegetables such as celeriac or parsnip and/or small boiled parsley potatoes.

Quince cheese

It's time the quince made a comeback. It looks like a hairy pear and takes a lot of cooking before it's edible, but has a lovely fragrance and taste when it is cooked. Turkish grocers - they use quince a lot in their cuisine - are good places to find the fruit. This isn't really a cheese at all, but a fruit preserve that goes particularly well with cheese. In Spain where it's widespread and eaten with manchego, this thick fruit paste is called membrillo.

1kg preserving sugar
750ml water
1.2kg quince, peeled, cored and grated or cut into small pieces
Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Continue to boil for about 5 minutes to make a light syrup. Stir the quince into the syrup, bring back to the boil and simmer very gently, stirring every so often for anything from 45 minutes to 11/2hours until the mixture turns into a thick grainy paste. This is a slow process, and there's nothing for it but patience, but I find giving it an occasional whisk helps the process along. It is ready when the spoon, dragged across the bottom of the pan, separates the paste, showing the clean bottom of the pan.

Spread the paste into lightly greased shallow dishes or trays and place in the oven at its lowest possible temperature for 3-4 hours to harden further. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Once cool, wrap in greaseproof paper in useable slabs that you can give away as gifts or keep for your own use. Store these in the fridge in sealed containers. It will keep for up to a year.

Mutton hot pot

Serves 4-6

Hot pot is probably one of the best known dishes in the North. There are various versions of Lancashire hot pot, but traditionally it would have been made with cuts of mutton such as neck chops. Kidneys and even some black pudding can be added. Back in the days when they were cheap, a few oysters would be slipped under the potato just for the last part of cooking. Mutton is in season now after a summer break and I strongly recommend using it for slow-cooked lamb dishes. You can buy it direct from Scotland from www.blackface.co.uk. Farmer Sharp's stall in Borough Market, London SE1, sells Herdwick mutton from the Lake District. If you can't get to the market contact info@farmersharp.co.uk.

800g mutton neck fillet, cut into rough 3-4cm chunks or 1.2kg mutton chops
6 lambs' kidneys, halved (optional)
Flour for dusting
Vegetable oil for frying
60g unsalted butter plus a little extra for brushing
450-500g onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1tsp chopped rosemary leaves
800ml lamb or beef stock (a good quality cube will do)
1kg large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Season the pieces of mutton and kidneys separately with salt and pepper and dust with flour. Heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and fry the mutton a few pieces at a time on a high heat until nicely coloured. Then drain in a colander. Fry and drain the kidneys afterwards, and set aside, mixed with the meat. Clean the pan and heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil. Fry the onions on a high heat until they begin to colour, add the butter and continue to cook for a few minutes until they soften. Dust the onions with a tablespoon of flour, stir well and gradually add the lamb stock, stirring to avoid lumps, and sprinkle in the rosemary. Bring to the boil, season and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Now you're ready to assemble the pot. Take an oven-proof casserole dish with a lid or similar, cover the bottom with a layer of potatoes first, followed by the meat with a little sauce, then the potatoes again. Continue until the meat and sauce has all been used. Finish the top with a layer of nicely overlapping potato slices. Brush the top with a little of the sauce and cook in the oven with the lid on for about 30 minutes on 220C/gas mark 7, and then turn the oven down to 140C/gas mark 1 and leave for 2 hours.

Then remove the lid and turn the oven back up to 220C/gas mark 7. Brush the top with a little melted butter to allow the potatoes to brown for the final 15 minutes or so.

Serve with pickled red cabbage as they do up north, or with seasonal root vegetables or greens. It's guaranteed to keep the cold out.

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